After years of oppression, the fall of Communism in Albania in 1991 opened Albania to the world. With this new freedom, one woman began her mission to educate and improve the lives of students in her home country.
Klementina Shahini is the principal and founder of the Lezha Academic Center in Lezhe, Albania. She spoke to several of Vonya Womack’s classes on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
The Center is a non-profit organization for grades 9-12 that provides its students with rigorous academics and a Biblical view of the world via 11 American teachers. Although the school is successful, it took years of planning and numerous hours of renovation and financial planning, as well as taking into account the residents view of an English school coming to their country.
“We had to test the water,” Shahini said. “We needed to find out how receptive the residents of the area would be to an English Christian school coming to the area.”
After years of planning and acquiring the financial means to begin renovating the building they had purchased, Shahini and her counterparts began to make the appropriate renovations to the building, putting in long hours to have the building ready in time for the fall semester.
“We all worked on the building,” Shahini said. “I remember one day in particular when I was tearing down a wall, a resident of the town came and asked me what my job was in relation to the school. I replied by saying I was the Principal and the person rolled their eyes as if I shouldn’t be doing this type of work.”
Shahini is very passionate about her work and is willing to do whatever she can to help the students at her school regardless of whether the struggles are academic or found outside of the school. One of those struggles was a direct result of the country’s past.
“Teenagers want to do everything they see on T.V,” Shahini said. “Albania was closed off for so long as a result of Communism that now the younger generation wants to do everything they see. This causes some problems between their parents and themselves because their parents grew up when you had no freedoms. The government told you what to read, what to eat, what to wear.”
Unemployment is high in Albania with 13 percent of the population without jobs. This is mainly due to the lack of businesses in the country, but that isn’t the only reason. Education also plays a large role in the current status of Albania.
“Unemployment is too high,” Shahini said. “It is partially due to lack of businesses, but it also comes down to the education. It’s very much a ‘give money and get a diploma’ society.”
This causes major implications because students will pay for a diploma without actually earning it, resulting in no skills to back the diploma, making it virtually worthless. This was also a major catalyst to create a stable academic environment where students felt welcomed, loved and integrity was key. Many schools teach basic level subjects and do not invest in the students other than academically. Shahini and her staff look at the well being of the students as well as the academics, acting as counselors if the students want to talk about things non-school related, or if something is bothering them.
One student expressed her gratitude in a letter to Shahini.
“There was one line I will never forget,” Shahini said. “It read: This is the first time in my life a teacher has ever loved or cared about me.”
Shahini’s goal is to give the population of Lezhe, Albania hope. The effects of the Lezha Academic Center were seen almost immediately amongst the students, many of whom began to start going to classes and enjoy school.
“There was a 100 percent difference,” Shahini said. “They didn’t want to come into school or go to class. Now, they don’t miss a day and do all of their work. We are the tools to help them, and now they’ve begun to use us to their benefit.”
Shahini’s next move for the school is to create more programs that will enable her to expand the school and have grades from kindergarten up through twelfth grade. She is extremely proud of her students and what they have accomplished, and is also proud of her faculty and staff for taking on this challenge and giving themselves to the school. However she said one of the greatest changes occurred within herself.
“This whole experience has changed my life,” Shahini said. “It changed the definition of what a leader is for me. I am a leader and leadership means serving others.”